My sick phobia stopped me from holding my daughter’s hand

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A mom has a phobia of getting sick that’s so extreme she couldn’t bring herself to hold her own daughter’s hand for a week after the 3-year-old fell ill.

Maddie Blockley was diagnosed with emetophobia — an extreme fear of vomiting.

The 28-year-old mental health nurse has long suffered from a fear of becoming sick, but was never able to figure out exactly what was wrong with her. Blockley has been through the mental health care process but didn’t hear of the phobia until May 2019.

“I knew I was scared of sick, but I could never piece together why or what was actually wrong with me,” she told SWNS. “Since knowing I have emetophobia it’s helped start managing and looking at ways I can help it.”

Blockley, from Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, believes she showed signs of the phobia from a young age, but it worsened when she got food poisoning at 9-years-old and was hospitalized.

She started to avoid things that had the potential to make her sick and became a picky eater, experimenting with being a vegetarian to avoid eating meat. 

“I would take my food up to my room and inspect it under my bedroom lamp and any I didn’t like the look of I would throw down the toilet,” Blockley said of the coping mechanisms she developed in childhood. “I was washing my hands so much I would scald them as the water was too hot. I was determined not to pick up any sickness bugs. But in my mind that was the way to get rid of germs.”

When her 3-year-old daughter Amelie Smout got sick, Blockley felt she couldn’t be near her. 
Courtesy Maddie Blockley / SWNS

Her parents couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her, so they took her to a general practitioner to be put under mental health guidance for an eating disorder.

“I felt so misunderstood — as the things the therapists were saying just didn’t apply to me,” Blockley recalled. “My parents didn’t get why I wouldn’t want to do things like other children — like go on rollercoasters.”

Blockley remembers saying that she would “choose to die over throwing up” when she was younger.

“I would often — and still do — say I just didn’t like something rather than saying it was because was worried I’d be ill,” she said. “There is this shame and worry that you’ll be judged for it.”

The mother-of-one has started cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnotherapy in the past year to help overcome and manage her fear, and says her phobia comes “in waves.”

Maddie Blockley with her partner Jack Smout and their daughter  Amelie Smout.
Maddie Blockley’s partner Jack Smout, 29, has a routine to help her with her phobia. 
Courtesy Maddie Blockley / SWNS

“I can tell it is helping but I still have waves that just throw me off,” Blockley said. “It’s like a relapse where my fear will become a lot worse and affect my life.”

When Blockley’s toddler-age daughter Amelie Smout got sick, Blockley felt she couldn’t be near her. 

“It killed me,” the mother said. “I couldn’t hold her hand or be in the room for long with her. I felt awful as she said to me: ‘Do you not love me because I’m poorly?’”

“It broke my heart, and the last thing I wanted to do was impose my fear on her or make her think I didn’t love her.”

When Blockley was pregnant, she says she was “in a good place” to have a child and not worry about the morning sickness that comes with pregnancy.

Maddie Blockley's daughter  Amelie Smout
Amelie Smout, 3, asked her mom, “Do you not love me because I’m poorly?” after she fell ill.
Courtesy Maddie Blockley / SWNS

“I was really lucky when I was pregnant and I didn’t have one day of sickness,” she said. “I felt sick on a lot of days, which made me really anxious, but I used sea-sick bands and took Gaviscon.”

Blockley’s partner Jack Smout, 29, has a routine to help his love with her phobia. 

“It’s really difficult for Jack to deal with and I don’t think he understood it at first but now he has taken the time to get to grips with it,” Blockley said. “It’s hard for him seeing me in my low moments.”

Blockley goes to bed with a fan, a glass of water, an open window, pillow spray, mints, herbal tea and a Gaviscon nearby.

“It’s hard to get to sleep because that’s when my mind is whirring with thoughts of being ill, but I have everything I need on my nightstand to help me,” she said.

Maddie Blockley with her daughter  Amelie Smout
“It broke my heart, and the last thing I wanted to do was impose my fear on her or make her think I didn’t love her,” Maddie Blockley said of her daughter.
Courtesy Maddie Blockley / SWNS

When Smout, a production engineering manager, comes down with an illness, Blockley will either encourage him to go somewhere else or will leave herself.

She’s admitted that Smout has picked up some of her cooking and cleaning habits.

Blockley has committed to eating what she calls a “safe diet” consisting of dry foods and “best before” products. She avoids dairy and meat — forgoing milk since she was 10 years old — and will even toss newly opened food if it “doesn’t smell quite right.”

“I hate it every time I throw something away — especially with living costs at the moment — but if the food smells slightly off I have to get rid of it,” she said. “Being sick is so scary to me — I can’t take any risks. I hate that I do it, but it’s such a massive fear for me.”

She even avoids going near food that looks like it could cause her to get sick. 

“If I see some food dropped on a dog walk, I’ll immediately think it’s sick or something,” she said. “And even when I’ve been reassured that it’s just food — usually an ice cream or something like that — I’ll still be terrified that it is sick as I can’t go near it.”

“The feeling of fear for being sick is like a trauma,” Blockley said. “I just hope I can begin to manage it more.”

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